Does Progressivism Exist?
Can you prove that progressivism exists? We can all name some famous progressives. We know that progressivism is on the ascendancy, and that our response to the current push for a final progressive victory will largely determine the fate of humanity in the coming centuries. And yet in all of this there is a whiff of mirage—as though, if one were to come too close to the thing itself, one would suddenly recognize that the oasis (or swamp) on the horizon was just more desert all along.
Let us journey towards that closer view, if you will, and ask, without a hint of irony, whether there has ever actually been a true progressive, i.e., a thinker or politician who espoused progressivism sincerely and as advertised. Stated differently, does progressivism, as a genuine political philosophy, even exist, or is the mirage all there is?
Progressives claim to believe in equality, which they never clearly define, except when they are speaking in strictly administrative terms (“equal pay”). They rally for “fairness,” which they describe only in terms of particular goals (“universal healthcare”), rather than according to any underlying principle. (“People before profit” is merely an incoherent bromide, not a principle; go ahead, try to explain it discursively.) They advocate “rights” which multiply like rabbits, while carefully obscuring how this overpopulation of rights affects the more traditional rights that must be sacrificed to make room for these new ones. (A “positive right” to the property of others means that property rights no longer exist.) Progressives plan the destruction of traditional Western rationalism, individualism, and morality—i.e., of the conditions of practical freedom and material prosperity—but they do so, without exception, under the banner of “progress.” Whether they be socialists, communists, fascists, or some hybrid of these, all progressives—and I mean the vanguard, the leading intellectuals and statesmen of progressivism—promote their various hopes and policies by means of the same slogan: Forward.
Forward, in practice, means, and has always meant, the same things: death to multitudes of innocents; economic collapse; spiritual degradation; widespread poverty; drudgerous, machine-like existence for “the masses,” leavened only by mindless amusements designed to palliate the senseless waste of time that is life without genuine hope; and forced debasement in compulsory retardation and indoctrination centers (aka government schools).
The willing victims of this world-historical abuse—those not offended at being identified as the amorphous “masses”—seem truly to believe in “Forward,” in progressive “equality,” “fairness,” “rights,” and the rest of the dogma. They believe in it while they watch their material prospects dwindling, the moral framework of centuries being mocked into ridicule, the laws tightening around the most absurd minutiae of their daily lives in the name of protecting them from their own childlike ignorance, and their leaders speaking of them, “the masses,” with the utmost disdain for their wishes, their dignity, or even their very lives.
But in what, or in whom, are these willing victims actually believing? Do they even know? Christians, Jews, and Buddhists know whom they are following. So do Pythagoreans, Cartesians, and Kantians. Do the victims of progressivism know who is leading them “forward” in the name of equality, fairness, and rights?
We all speak of the “progressives.” The word is in vogue again these days. I myself usually prefer it to “socialist” or “leftist,” mainly because it speaks more broadly of an underlying philosophical position, rather than of a specific economic program or political stripe, and therefore cuts closer to the bone of the hundred and fifty year assault on Western civilization that has led mankind to its present bleak prospect. But of whom, exactly, are we speaking?
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton describe themselves proudly as progressives. So do Bill Ayers, John Dewey, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and all international socialist and communist organizations. So did Frances Perkins, FDR’s Labor Secretary, regarded as the mother of the New Deal. So did Tommy Douglas, the founder of Canada’s first mainstream socialist party, and the godfather of socialized medicine. So did Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, who, like Douglas, Hitler, and many other progressives, advocated eugenics for the purpose of racial and social purification.
“Wait a minute!” some may object here. “You can’t just throw Hitler’s name into that list—he wasn’t a progressive, but merely a power-mad lunatic.” And so he was. So let us leave him off the list of “real” progressives, in the name of being fair to progressivism.
Here, however, is where things get dicey. If we leave Hitler—one of the most prominent of “Forward” sloganeers and an obvious heir to the German idealist nationalism of progressivism’s fountainhead, Johann Gottlieb Fichte—off the list of legitimate progressives, then must not our purging of the list continue, until we are left with only the “legitimate” ones?
Mao Tse-tung was a progressive, was he not? And yet his person and policies were directly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent human beings. My guess is that most of “the masses” would not find this an acceptable road to equality, fairness, and rights, and hence would not accept Mao as exemplary of progressivism. Likewise with Stalin. However, forced migrations and deaths did not prevent many so-called progressive intellectuals in the West from supporting and defending Stalin—who, after all, was killing as a necessary evil on the road to the progressive dream of collectivization—until the inhumanity of his methods was exposed to the Western “masses,” thereby becoming an embarrassment to the intellectuals. And Mao still has prominent apologists among the “progressive” elite, including among appointees of the Obama administration who, like Canada’s iconic progressive prime minister Pierre Trudeau, have lauded Maoist China as an admirable attempt to achieve the ideal of “equality.”
And here the complications increase exponentially. Today’s “legitimate,” “genuine” progressive leaders and intellectuals commonly regard the “illegitimate,” “inauthentic” ones as their spiritual kin. According to their own proclamations and policy proposals, they want the same things, although our “legitimate” progressives, whether due to squeamishness or pragmatic calculation, eschew some of their forebears’ more extreme measures.
Consider, for example, the moral support and political sympathy so casually expressed by today’s political, media, and Hollywood “progressives” towards Fidel Castro and his sidekick, the super-cool Che Guevara of campus T-shirt fame. Castro and Guevara were killers, and thorough devotees of Lenin and (particularly in Guevara’s case) Stalin. Their Cuban revolution was a lodestar of the North American New Left, and the Cuban communists, through their intelligence agency, the DGI, were directly involved in training and funding “progressive” terrorist groups such as the Weather Underground and Canada’s Front de Libération du Québec. These groups were open in their support for Castro, Mao, the Viet Cong, and the Soviet Union. They used, advocated, and incited violence, including murder. Several of the leading members of the Weathermen are now leading “progressive” education theorists and children’s rights advocates. Two of them hosted Barack Obama’s first-ever campaign event in their home, and one of them—one who, according to FBI informer Larry Grathwohl, regarded the murder of twenty-five million Americans as a practical necessity of The Revolution—worked together on multi-million dollar community organizing projects with Obama, as well as probably having a hand in writing the latter’s most famous autobiography.
The very progressive Communist Party USA, whose current leadership includes at least one person who received formal honors from the Soviet Union, has boisterously supported Obama throughout his presidency, and cited his key agenda items as the most practical road to socialism in America—a reasonable position, as Obama’s agenda bears a striking resemblance to that of the progressive co-authors of the famous little manifesto whence the CPUSA gets its mission statement.
See the problem? Sorting the “genuine” progressives from the power-mad lunatics gets more complicated with each step. Where, exactly, is the cut-off point, the line in the sand distinguishing the bloodstained tyrants from the “real” progressives, who sincerely wish to promote the causes of equality, fairness, and rights?
Indeed, apart from their declared advocacy of equality and justice, the one thing all these progressives —genuine or otherwise—seem to have in common is cold-bloodedness. That is, they not only show contempt for individual human life, but they also tend toward statements, sentiments, and policies that would actively require the deaths of many people—and this requirement seems not to bother any of them very much. Progressivism, as I have previously argued, is in part a death cult.
One of America’s most influential early progressives, Edward Mandell House, wrote an idealistic fantasy novel about a progressive dictatorship which supplants the U.S. government, achieving power by means of a civil war in which 40,000 defenders of the constitutional republic are killed, with barely a second thought. This book was published the same year Woodrow Wilson was elected president—with “Colonel” House as his chief advisor and strategist.
Prince Philip, like most progressives a population reduction junkie, allegedly said that if he were to be reincarnated, he would like to return as a deadly virus in order to “solve” overpopulation. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s labor secretary, garnered an enthusiastic ovation from an audience of university students when he described what an “honest” politician would tell old people regarding health care: “we’re going to let you die.” Progressive academics, politicians, and presidents have been vociferous proponents of the absolute “right” of abortion, even up to and including the moments after live birth, i.e., infanticide.
When Islamic terrorists besieged an American diplomatic mission in Libya, Obama and his secretary of state remained blithely unresponsive and disengaged—for over seven hours, until the final Americans were killed. In the aftermath, they pursued a calculated policy of misrepresenting the attack as a spontaneous uprising related to an online video. Their propaganda campaign—let us call things by their right names—was designed to shield them from blame for their refusal to defend American citizens under attack. This propaganda, built on the repeated citing of an “outrageous,” “intolerant,” “anti-Islamic” video which the administration knew from the outset was completely unrelated to the Benghazi attack, helped to incite violent anti-West protests in several countries, resulting in numerous Arab deaths. Several months later, called to account for this extreme disregard for human life and for truth, Hillary Clinton openly declared victory in the stalling game that the administration had been playing, with this immortal challenge: “What difference—at this point—does it make?”
So we return to our initial question: does “genuine” progressivism exist? Thousands of men and women have achieved power and wealth for themselves, subdued “the masses” of many nations, forcibly removed generations of children from their parents’ control, turned every traditional moral precept on its head in the name of “social justice,” “workers’ rights,” and “spreading the wealth,” and murdered, disarmed, criminalized, or re-educated anyone who stood in their way. They achieved these things by framing them as “progress” on the path to equality, fairness, and rights, but their practical outcomes have been indistinguishable from those of every bloody tyrant in modern history. And they also share a natural enemy in common with history’s tyrants, namely all those among “the masses” who wish to pursue their own ends by their own effort, unimpeded by coercive obstruction from other men.
What evidence have we, then, that their true intentions are any different from those of all previous authoritarians? We have only their word, parroted by their adherents among “the masses,” that their goals are noble and moral. Why should we accept their word at face value, when we see how cavalierly they treat human life and liberty, and how thoroughly they have destroyed every community they have commandeered? Why, in other words, should we believe they intend some ill-conceived human “progress” merely because they say they do?
They say they are for equality, fairness, and rights; and yet they use these words in ways that contradict their long-established meanings. “Equality” achieved by legally punishing everyone who refuses to accept his state-determined lot in life is nothing like any notion of equality that men espoused throughout the previous millennia of Western civilization. The same goes for “fairness” achieved by forcibly restraining men’s aspirations and actions, and “rights” which require the abolition of the basic concept of private property common to every civilized society in the history of mankind.
Why do they use these time-honored words at all, if they are using them in ways that no one has ever used them before? The answer is self-evident: to deceive.
One more thing “legitimate” progressives share in common with their “illegitimate” counterparts is the habitual use of official propaganda: the state’s deliberate manipulation of accepted moral language (i.e., traditional beliefs) to effect change surreptitiously. In 1917, Woodrow Wilson created America’s Committee on Public Information with the explicit purpose of propagandizing the American public, using lies and threats of public ostracism to push the nation into war with Germany. It has been the practice of Western progressives ever since to mask the more extreme implications of their proposals behind traditional moral language and invocations of patriotism. This practical method—used freely by the preeminent progressives of the first half of the twentieth century, both “legitimate” and “illegitimate”—was developed into a theory by the Frankfurt School Marxists and like-minded others at American universities. The undermining of the West, they determined, required the insinuation of anti-Western notions into the culture, and would best be achieved by co-opting and inverting respected Western concepts. Hence the progressives’ use of “equality,” “fairness,” “rights,” and all the rest of the lexicon of liberty that has now been turned to the purpose of achieving universal plunder and servitude for the benefit of those who regard themselves as our superiors, and see “the masses” as so much expendable fuel for their journey to the paradise of unrestricted authority. This is the not-so-subtle meaning of the progressive term, “the masses”: humanity viewed as an inanimate force, to be directed by ruling intelligences for their own ends.
Such, then, is progressivism as the world has experienced it: a panoply of calculated lies in support of the urges of men and women who have shown through their actions and words that their ultimate aims are power and personal glory, while their chief policy motives are fear and a desire to eliminate potential challenges.
Leaving aside the duped masses dreaming of their dear leaders’ promises of equality and justice, I ask: Where are the legitimate, genuine progressives? There are sincere monarchists who make the case for monarchy as the best form of government, just as there are sincere advocates of democracy, constitutional republicanism, and aristocracy. But if progressivism itself has never been anything but a concatenation of ulterior motives and power lust masked in sentimental slogans and promises of “transformation,” is it possible to be a sincere progressive? Which leading progressive actually believes in progressivism’s public presentation?
Does progressivism exist? Or has our purging of the “legitimate” list finally left us with a blank piece of paper? Is progressivism a genuine political philosophy at all, or just another patch of sand in the historical desert of authoritarianism?
(Originally published in March 2013)